The Double is an intriguing film that unfortunately fell under the radar of mainstream cinemas.
At times it reminds me of the dank underworld of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, the sense of claustrophobia and entrapment setting in early on. At others I’m reminded of the concept of the bureaucratic, totalitarian government conspiring against the individual, namely that of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
Put both of these films together and you wind up with the comically dark film The Double, the second feature of British actor/comedian/writer/director Richard Ayoade.
The Double stars Academy Award Nominee Jesse Eisenberg as timid employee Simon James who works as a clerk for an unnamed company in a confined office building.
What he does isn’t important; what matters is that he is lonely, doesn’t fit in, and constantly has trouble in virtually every facet of his life. Along comes the aptly named James Simon (also played by Eisenberg), a man who looks, sounds, and dresses exactly like Simon.
James immediately wins the praise of his coworkers and is the talk of the town at the office. James is the epitome of what Simon is not: James is confident, snarky, witty, and knows how to get on peoples’ good side. The two befriend one another, but things spiral downward rather quickly. Through various avenues, James becomes a burden to Simon and the two quickly turn into enemies.
Before I discuss The Double further, allow me to briefly contextualize director Richard Ayoade’s background. He has primarily worked in comedy, starting his acting career in the short-lived satire television show Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004) with friends from college. Darkplace is zany, off-beat, and down right silly at times, evoking both 1980s soap operas, as well as 90s-00s hospital dramas (all while poking fun at them).
The show is filled with tons of technical errors, including overdubs, poor lighting techniques, and intentionally haphazard editing, not unlike American comedy show Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!. There is a horror element to each of the six episodes of Darkplace that comes off as cheesy and typically mocks the thriller-esque mystery of contemporary programs like Criminal Minds, 24, and the majority of “reality” shows.
Ayoade then went on to form the successful comedy show called The IT Crowd (2006). Still somewhat satirical, the show is much more of a conventional sitcom and has garnered a larger audience than Darkplace did. A successful endeavour for Ayoade, The IT Crowd spawned multiple seasons and several one-off specials.
Fast forward a few years to 2010, when Ayoade released his directorial debut, Submarine. Submarine is a coming-of-age dramedy that follows a teenage boy who discovers his interest in the opposite sex. The premise sounds all too familiar, however the execution is where Submarine excels.
There is an obvious Wes Anderson influence, but the film never tries to emulate Anderson’s flair. Instead, the film blends both dramatic elements and comedy (Ayoade’s second nature) and does so with originality and confidence.
There aren’t any films I can compare Submarine to other than Ayoade’s latest, The Double; it is that distinct in its look and style. Both of Ayoade’s films have elements of magical realism to them in which the settings appear (mostly) realistic, and the things that happen to their characters are what are magical.
There are moments of happiness and utter sadness in Submarine, both involving a strange sense of nostalgia, like we’ve all experienced what characters Oliver and Jordana (played by Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, both of whom have small roles in The Double) go through.
Ayoade’s latest, The Double, is a rather frenzied film. Things move quickly, and Ayoade does not mess around here; he knows precisely how to pace the story he has adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novella of the same name.
There is an underlying tension throughout the film that is conflicting: are we to laugh at the scenarios we find protagonist Simon and his doppelganger James in, or do we feel as anxious as he does in this chaotic world? In most cases, it’s a bit of both.
The aforementioned pacing of The Double is expertly edited so as to demonstrate this lingering air of weariness.
The doppelganger narrative is nothing new to the cinema, with films such as David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002), and the upcoming TFS screening of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy (2013; on September 24 @ Market Hall) all portraying a similar story of the two doubles finding themselves in awkward scenarios once their lookalike is in their presence.
The Double, while not necessarily reinventing the wheel, is both fun and uncomfortable and provides us with a different flavour of this story archetype.
Also in the film is rising star Mia Wasikowska (Stoker, Alice in Wonderland) and the inconceivably great Wallace Shawn (My Dinner With Andre, The Princess Bride).
Please join us for a FREE public screening of Richard Ayoade’s The Double on Wednesday, September 17 @ Artspace (378 Aylmer Street North). The show begins at 8pm. All are welcome!